Hyde County Could Get Unmanned Aircraft Program

ENGELHARD, N.C. - Officials in Hyde County are trying to get public support for a project that would bring unmanned aircraft testing to a county airport.

Engelhard Airport could be the center for that site. The airport is in a lightly populated area in the eastern side of the county.

The Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or RPA, that would be tested at the site are small aircraft under 50 pounds with wingspans of 8 to 10 feet. They are not for use by the military and research is contracted by private companies. Officials with Hyde County think the presence of the drones won't disrupt people living in the area.

"You won't even know there's one around. They make little noise at all," Gregory Gibbs said, who is on the Airport Advisory Commission.

Another benefit people with Hyde County are hoping for is an influx of skilled workers coming into the area. The RPA Program is part of a larger effort to bring high technology jobs into the area.

"Everyone that's involved in this stuff, they are at an elevated level of sophistication as far as education and technology development," Gibbs said.

Hyde County Economic Development and Planning Official, Kris Hyde, says it's good to get some more use out of the airport as well.

"We are in a very remote area, and that remoteness has always been an impediment to commerce for us. At this point the remoteness might be an opportunity for us to do something different and innovative," Kris Noble said.

The new test facility wouldn't cost the county anything, and taxes wouldn't be raised to allow testing to begin. Hyde County is waiting for final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

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